By John R. Schirmer
Joe Kell picked up right where left off when he returned to his old office last month as interim assistant superintendent of the Nashville School District.
Kell served in the assistant superintendent position from 2006 until he resigned Dec. 17, 2020, following a bout with Covid-19. His resignation took effect Feb. 28, 2021. Kell was one of seven Arkansas school administrators who were on ventilators during the early phase of the pandemic, and he was the only one who survived.
He was out of the office about 18 months from the time he contracted the virus until he stepped down. Last month, the school board named him to the interim position through September 30. The district is searching for a permanent assistant superintendent.
“It’s been good,” Kell said of his return. “It’s good to be back and see everybody on a regular basis.”
Much of the job is “the same” as it was when he left, Kell said. However, “There’s a lot of new stuff,” including the American Recovery Act.
“I’ve been getting my head wrapped around the expenditure of federal and categorical funds. That I picked up real easily,” Kell said. Those funds are similar to what Kell oversaw when he held the position full time.
The addition came in the form of ESSER 1, 2 and 3, according to Kell. ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) is part of the American Recovery Act and is designed to help schools cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s a very substantial amount of money,” according to Kell. “I’ve had most of my time there.”
The district has used ESSER funding for programs to help students recover from missed classroom time because of the pandemic. Funds have also been utilized for equipment to minimize the spread of the virus on campus, including heating and cooling systems on two campuses and air purification units on all campuses.
In typical fashion, the government has also added “about 20 more acronyms in the time I was gone,” referring to federal education terminology. “Some programs changed names.”
Kell said he “got back in the swing of things pretty easily.” He’s been working closely with curriculum coordinator Kim Slayton, who took on many of Kell’s duties while he was gone. “She’s steered me in the right direction. I appreciate that. Overall, it’s been a pretty smooth transition. I enjoy being back at work.”
Kell decided to get back in after Superintendent Doug Graham “asked me if I would be willing to come back for a limited amount of time.”
He agreed and returned to the district as there is “new stuff coming down. Part will be done by the end of July; some later. Mrs. Slayton is in the middle of testing” as schools prepare for the state-mandated assessments
“I’m glad to help out,” he said.
Kell and Graham “have been friends since 1986.” They worked together at Bald Knob when Graham hired Kell as an assistant coach. From there, he went to Hope and Blevins before rejoining Graham at Nashville where he became junior high principal in 2004.
Kell has been in education for 34 years.